How to Combat Isolation and Loneliness When Working Remotely
Tips and suggestions to address the number one problem facing remote workers
Almost one year ago, I made a major decision to leave my well-paid government job for a remote work life. And while it was a scary decision, it was, unequivocally, the best life decision I’ve made in a long time. The benefits have far outweighed any drawbacks and I only wish I’d made that decision sooner.
I love the flexibility that my remote work situation affords me; for me it is the number one benefit of working remotely and it trumps any drawbacks.
I regularly have online meetings at 6 or 7 AM with people half-way across the world, but I can wake up, shower, make coffee, and be ‘at work’ in front of my computer in twenty minutes.
No more scrambling to get dressed in my ‘corporate’ attire. No more stress rushing to get my daughter (who has special needs and is not a morning person) ready for her day program. No more guilt leaving her home alone to wait for her transportation because I have to fly out the door to make it to work on time. No more soul-sucking, hour-long commute. No more endless workplace stressors. The list of ‘no mores’ goes on.
I can also travel anywhere and still work. Recently, I traveled to Mexico for two weeks and worked almost every day, starting off inside my condo in the early morning hours and moving poolside once the sun came up. I’d spend my afternoons hanging on the beach, cycling around town, or touring through Mayan ruins perched on oceanside cliffs. Yes, it was as idyllic as it sounds.
But no situation is perfect.
While I am one of those people who thrives on quiet and privacy when I work, I do find myself feeling lonely and isolated at times. So, usually once a week, I head to the local Starbucks or McDonalds (or even a local pub if it’s a weekend) to work just so I can be amongst people.
Numerous studies have shown that the number one problem facing remote workers is loneliness and isolation.
In the 2018 State of Remote Work, a study conducted by Buffer, Workfrom, and Hubstaff, data was collected from over 1,900 remote workers from around the world. Of all the struggles faced by remote workers, loneliness topped the list, tied for first place with issues around collaboration and communication.
“Being connected to others socially is widely considered a fundamental human need – crucial to both well-being and survival,” says psychologist Julianne Holt-Lunstad from Brigham Young University.
As a result, more attention has been focused on the issue, and organizations and companies that employ remote workers are putting more effort towards helping workers find solutions to combat loneliness and isolation.
Here are some of the top tips and suggestions to combat loneliness and isolation:
- Get out of the house. Go work at a local coffee shop, coworking space, or library. Sometimes on a Friday, I’ll even head to a local pub and work with a pint of my favourite craft beer to keep me company! It’s amazing how much better you feel just being around people. Plus, I find changing my environment reinvigorates me and inspires creativity.
- Make a point of meeting a friend for coffee, lunch, dinner, or a drink once a week. And make sure it’s a friend who brings positive energy to your life so you leave feeling positive and uplifted.
- If you are a remote employee (as opposed to a freelancer), make a point of communicating with your colleagues on a regular basis using company communication tools.
- Get a dog! Anyone who owns a dog knows how social other dog owners are. I have a dog and almost every day when my dog stops to interact with another dog, I end up interacting with the dog’s owner. It’s a great way to meet people and just break up your day.
- Join a gym. Again, it’s all about being around people. I go to the gym almost every day, and the combination of endorphins released from exercising together with just being around people leaves me with an extra bounce in my step.
- Join a Slack community. Did you know that Slack (a free messaging app used by many remote companies and workers) has Slack communities that you can join to have discussions with like-minded people. Check it out!
In an interview with GoGo Remote, Jordi Giménez, co-founder of Mobile Jazz, whose entire team is remote, offered these additional suggestions on how they help their team address the issue of isolation and loneliness:
- Hold weekly ‘all hands’ meetings with your team. Use half the time to talk about work — new projects, new clients, new team members — but use the other half to have everyone share something. It doesn’t even have to be work-related. It could be what they did this weekend, or it could be sharing a new recipe or even holiday photos — anything goes.
- Do random one-on-one calls. Every week Mobile Jazz pairs people randomly and schedules a short call, and those people just talk about anything not work-related. Great way to connect with and get to know your colleagues on a more personal level.
- Encourage people to exercise every day. Even if it’s just going for a walk. Physical exercise is important for everyone’s health and well-being, and not just physical health but mental health as well.
- Each week, offer lessons and roundtables where one person from the team or an outside person presents a course. It could be something around development like design practices or marketing but it also could be things not work-related, like photography or even beer tasting!
Loneliness isn’t the sole domain of the remote worker — numerous studies have reported that loneliness is becoming an epidemic — but working from home certainly has the potential to contribute to feelings of loneliness. As remote workers, we need to be mindful of this and actively take steps to ensure we nurture and maintain our social connections.